Organizations are facing a problem. For several years now, researchers and practitioners alike have recognized that during this decade, a large number of Baby Boomers will be near, or at, retirement age, and their exit will cause a significant skill shortage.

Just this past year, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey to better understand the talent landscape. One finding emerged quite clearly: the availability of talent and skills of the workforce will present challenges to organizations across the globe.

The job market today is favorable towards job applicants–they have more options to choose from—which means organizations have to work harder to attract and retain their workers. Further, HR leaders foresee a skill shortage on the horizon as workers retire and take with them critical knowledge, experience and expertise that new leaders will have not had the opportunity to possess. This changing landscape has left organizations looking to find ways to retain the valuable knowledge, experiences, and skills that they are at risk of losing, and will find difficult to replace.

Mentoring could be one of the solutions to make this transition smoother, and it also has retention benefits. Employees who possess institutional knowledge are already being sought to teach their experiences to newer, less experienced staff members. However, what should organizations be thinking about to make sure mentoring relationships are at their most effective? And, as we’ll talk about more next week, what do you need to know about engaging Next Generation Leaders in this type of partnership?

Key Points to Consider when building mentoring relationships as a solution:

1. Mentoring is a relationship between a more experienced individual and a less experienced individual based on some relevant skill-set

This does NOT mean that the mentor has to be, or should be, chronologically older.

Focus on the skills: When pairing individuals together, think about what skills and behaviors you want to pass down, as opposed to seeing the relationship as an older worker mentoring a younger worker. Tenure does not necessarily equate to being a good role model for leadership skills. If age is the main focus, the relationship will likely miss the goal of knowledge transfer and create a division among the mentor and protégé.

2. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship

Not only does the protégé experience benefits, but the mentor can as well (I describe the particular benefits experienced by both groups in more detail in a prior blog post).

Share expectations between both parties: Being able to speak to both mentors and protégés about what they can expect from the relationship is a good selling point. It can be easy to place sole focus on bringing a new leader up to speed, but spend time with mentors to help them understand the positive impact they will have by sharing their knowledge and skills.

3. Mentoring relationships are deep and values-based

One might assume that individuals who appear demographically similar, might make a good mentor/protégé match. However, the academic literature does not confirm this and would suggest that while these characteristics might be important early on, over time the mentoring relationship becomes less about superficial aspects, and more about the shared values both individuals have.

Pair with intention: Spend considerable time thinking through your strategy for helping mentors and protégés find each other. While there are certain benefits to having a mentor who a protégé can “see themselves” in, take the pairing one step further. What personality characteristics, values, and skills does each person have, and who might they best learn from?

4. Mentors do NOT need to be the individual’s boss

Mentors may be the individual’s boss, or they may be someone in an entirely different part of the organization.

Be open: It is true that an employee may admire his/her boss and see them as a role-model. In these instances, it is certainly OK to encourage a mentoring relationship. However, recognize that this may not happen for every direct report and push individuals to seek a mentor in another part of the company, or even industry.

These four considerations are not small, and yes, they will require a lot of effort by any leader who wants to use mentoring as a solution. At the same time, as with most relationships, being thoughtful about how to encourage and engage all leaders in this type of partnership will very likely yield better results. Mentoring is not a quick and easy solution, but oh is it an impactful one.

What Next?

Now that we have some of these basic mentoring foundations laid out, next week we’ll focus more specifically on Next Generation Leaders. What are they looking for in business relationships and how can we leverage mentoring to help them?